Archive for category Gospel of Matthew
There is a Latin maxim that says, “Tempus fugit!”, which means in English “Time flies!” Indeed time flies quickly. It seems like only yesterday when we were preparing with all excitement and joy for Christmas. Today it is already the Feast of Epiphany that we are celebrating which brings us to the last Sunday of the Christmas Season. Just a friendly reminder: In case you failed to give someone earlier a Christmas gift, you still have some time today to do it.
The Feast of Epiphany that we are celebrating today is popularly known also as the Feast of Three Kings. The Germans were the ones who “coined” and popularized this “Feast of Three Kings.” Based on the German tradition it was assumed that there were “three kings” because of the presence of the three gifts, namely, gold, frankincense and myrrh which were very expensive during that time that only a King can afford to give it as a gift.
If we go back, however, to the biblical texts of the Gospel According To Matthew we will discover that there was no mention of the word “king.” There was no mention also of the word “three.” What was being mentioned only was the term “magi” which literally means “wise men,” “learned men,” or “enlightened astrologers.” But they were not the “fortune tellers” or the “manghuhulas” that we have today.
What is something definite in the story is that there were wise men from the East who, under the guidance of the star, had searched and found the infant Jesus with Mary his mother. They knelt down and worshiped the new-born King, opened their gifts and offered him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts have symbolical significance to the divine identify and mission of Jesus. Gold symbolizes the kingship of Jesus. Frankincense symbolizes the divinity of Jesus. Myrrh symbolizes the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross that brought about our salvation. Having warned not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
What is epiphany? “Epiphany” means “manifestation” or “appearance” of God in the person or humanity of Jesus. It is also a revealing scene and event when God was pleased to disclose His identity, mission and plan of salvation not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles. Epiphany also means an illuminating discovery or realization that Jesus, indeed, is the “Immanuel” the “God-with-us.”
What are the significance or implications of Epiphany in relation with our sanctification and salvation?
First, epiphany tells us that in Jesus, God became visible and audible for us. Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God. In him the fullness of divinity dwells (see Col 1:15). St. John the Evangelist rightly describes the mystery of Incarnation in his Prologue when he wrote: “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God; And the Word was made flesh; and He dwelt among us” (see Jn 1:1-5, 9-14). For John, however, Jesus is not only the “Word Made Flesh’ but also the “Love Made Flesh” when he declared: Through him we have seen and believe in the Love of God for us (1 Jn 4:16).
Second, epiphany tell us that the in Jesus God once again became accessible to us. In Jesus we have once again access to the Father. In Jesus we have once again access to the Father’s Kingdom. In Jesus we have once again access to the fullness of truth and grace that God alone can give. As Jesus himself declared: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6).
Third, epiphany tells us the God wants all men and women to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the fulness of truth (1 Tim 2:3-4), that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14:6). The kingdom of God is intended for all men and women of all generations. God does not want anyone to perish eternally in hell. Salvation, therefore, is inclusive not exclusive.
What are some of the challenges for all of us? Like the wise men let us keep on searching for the fullness of truth. Once we found the truth let us adhere to the truth. Like the wise men let us also acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and Savior and do him homage. Like the wise men let us also open our gifts and offered them to Jesus which is the greatest gift of God the Father to His people. Of course, not gold, not frankincense, not myrrh but our body, our self, our whole life. As St Paul exhorted the first early Christians in Rome: “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is the kind of spiritual worship God wants from you” (Rm 12:1).
Herod the tetrarch is also known as Herod Antipas. The same Herod as appears later in the account of the Passion (cf. Lk 23:7ff). A son of Herod the Great. Antipas governed Galilee and Perea in the name of the Roman emperor; according to Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian (“Jewish Antiquities”, XVIII, 5, 4). He was originally married to the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia. However, while on an excursion to Rome, he stayed with his half-brother Philip and Herodias, his wife. Impetuously, he fell in love with his brother’s wife. Rather than suppress his inappropriate infatuation, he approached Herodias and convinced her to leave Philip. She agreed as long as he divorced his Arabian wife, which he did (See Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, Chap. V, v. 1-2).
John’s accusation was that Herod Antipas was a wife-stealer. And worse than that, he had stolen the wife of his own brother! His act was immoral and unlawful, for ‘if a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing’ (Lev. 20:21).
Herod, who divorced the daughter of Aretas without sufficient cause consummated an illegal and immoral marriage with Herodias, ignored the direct counsel of John the Baptist; held lascivious parties; made an oath to give Salome whatever she wanted, up to half of your kingdom, because he liked the way she danced…Well that one puts him in a bind. Though he was left with an option of breaking an ill-advised oath or executing a prophet of God and he could have broken the oath Herod, pursuant to this grant (Mt 14:10); He sent and beheaded John in the prison.
Towards the end of the first century Flavius Josephus wrote of these same events. He gives additional information–specifying that it was in the fortress of Makeronte that John was imprisoned (this fortress was on the eastern bank of the Dead Sea, and was the scene of the banquet in question) and that Herodias’ daughter was called Salome.
There are three great lessons to learn from the life of Herod:
First, no man can rid himself of a sin by ridding himself off the man who confronts him with it. There is such a thing as conscience, where he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (cf. Gaudium et Spet, 16), and even if a man’s accuser is eliminated his guilty conscience is still not silenced.
Herod’s mind has been tortured by guilt from murdering a prophet of God. Herod’s actions were obviously haunting him. He knew it was wrong to kill John. He had been plagued with his own conscience and knew that he would be punished for his actions, ‘For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly’ (Mark 6:20).
“’Herod Antipas, to whom, on the death of Herod the Great, had fallen the tetrarchy of Galilee, was about as weak and miserable a prince as ever disgraced the throne of an afflicted country. Cruel, crafty, voluptuous, like his father, he was also, unlike him, weak in war and vacillating in peace. In him, as in so many characters which stand conspicuous on the stage of history, infidelity and superstition went hand in hand. But the morbid terrors of a guilty conscience did not save him from the criminal extravagances of a violent will.’” (Farrar, p. 295.)” (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 2: 331.)
Vatican II reminds us: “For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God…His conscience is man’s most secret core and sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (Gaudium et Spet, 16).
“Moral conscience (cf. Rom 2:14-16), present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges a particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil (cf. Rom 1:32) …When a man listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking” (cf. CCC 1777).
“Return to your conscience, question it…Turn inward, brethren and in everything you do, see God as your witness “ (St. Augustine, In ep Jo. 8, 9: PL 35 2041.
Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.
In order that conscience can make right judgment, “some rules apply in every case: (1) One may never do evil so that good may result from it; (2) the Golden Rule: “Whatever you wish that men would do, do so to them” (Mt 7:12; cf. Lk 6:31; Tob 4:15); (3) charity always proceeds by way of respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience: “Thus sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience…you sin against Christ” (1 Cor 8:12).Therefore “it is right not to…do anything that makes your brother stumble” (Rom 14:21) (CCC 1789).
You are guilty of sin when you do anything against your right and informed conscience. Your conscience will always be in state of guilt and fear and will keep on pestering you for the evil deeds done. What a troubled and a restless mind. Strive for a clear conscience. “There’s no pillow so soft as a clear conscience,” says the French proverb.
Second, pledging oneself by oath to commit an evil deed is contrary to the holiness of the divine name although a person commits perjury when he makes a promise under oath with no intention of keeping it, or when after promising on oath he does not keep it (see cf. 2152).
Bruce R. McConkie comments:
“Herod is stunned [at the request for John’s head]; he is plunged into sudden grief; his fawning friends are appalled…Antipas…feared to lose face with his nobles should he break his intemperate oath.
“’If a single touch of manliness had been left in him he would have repudiated the request as one which did not fall either under the letter or spirit of his oath, since the life of one cannot be made the gift to another; or he would have boldly declared that if such was her choice, his oath was more honoured by being broken than by being kept. But a despicable pride and fear of man prevailed over his better impulses. More afraid of the criticisms of his guests than of the future torment of such conscience as was left him, he immediately sent an executioner to the prison, and so at the bidding of a dissolute coward, and to please the loathly fancies of a shameless girl, the axe fell, and the head of the noblest of the prophets was shorn away.’ (Farrar)” (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 2: 334-5.)
St Augustine further comments: “Amid the excesses and sensuality of the guests, oaths are rashly made, which then are unjustly kept” (“Sermon 10”).
The rash and foolish promise confirmed with an oath, (see Mt 14:7) which Herod made to this wanton girl, to give her whatsoever she would ask and this promise was a very extravagant obligation that neither a prudent man that is afraid of being snared in the words of his mouth (Prove 6:2) nor a good man that fears an oath, Eccl 9:2 would dare. Oaths or promises are ensnaring things, and, when made rashly can be an occasion of many temptations and sins. Therefore, swear not so at all, lest thou have occasion to say, It was an erro, (Eccl. 5:6). That’s just the reason the Savior said, Swear not at all; neither by heaven…Nor by the earth (Matt 5:34
It is a sin against the second commandment of God’s Law to make an oath to do something unjust; any such oath has no binding force. In fact, if one keeps it–as Herod did–one commits an additional sin. The Catechism also teaches that one offends against this precept if one swears something untrue, or swears needlessly (cf. “St Pius V
Catechism”, III, 3, 24). Cf. note on Mt 5:33-37.
Third, sin engenders other sins and vices, destruction and death. This results in perverse inclination which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root (see cf. CCC 1865, 1866, 1868, 1869).
Herod’s action started first with a seduction of Herodias then followed by a divorce of his own wife Areta. Next, John was imprisoned and beheaded. Bitterly resented the insult perpetrated against his daughter, King Areta of Arabia Petrea, Aretas’ father who was the ruler of Nabateans made war against Herod that heavily defeated him.
Some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God as punishment for what he had done to John. What happened then and that what followed after simply proved that sin brings its own punishment. It was an omen when Herod first seduced Herodias. From that act of infidelity came the murder of John, and in the end disaster, in which he lost everything except Herodias who stayed with him to the end.
Lord, anticipate our needs and prevent us from falling. Help us to choose what is good and to reject what is contrary to your will. And help us to strive for holiness that we may please you in all things (Hebrews 12:14).”
There is a bible scholar who said, “The message of the Scripture from the first page to the very last is love”. Indeed love is the main message of Christianity, others are just commentaries. Apart from it no sacrifice, no offering, no worship, no conduct are holy, pleasing and acceptable to the Lord. Hence, the perfection of the Christian life consists principally and essentially in charity. It is the foundation, center and the summit of Christian life.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind” (Mk 12:30). “And your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10:27) is the first and most important. “The commandment of love encompass all of the commandments of the Decalogue and fulfill them. All are contained in them, all follows from them, all strive toward them” (OR, June 1991). “Love is the greatest and the first of all the commandments and in it all the others are included and made one” (JP II Address to Youth). It is a resume and condensation of the fullness of the Law (Rm. 13:8, 10) that suffices. So it is that charity expresses all, contains all, crowns all.
Alan Watts writes, “One may master all the rules of conduct but fail to be a Christian for lack of love. Mere obedience to a law will never of itself produce love, because love is the very life of God and there is no system or set of rules whereby one can become its possessor” (Behold the Spirit). Charity is the soul of the holiness to which all are called: it “governs, shapes, and perfects all the means of sanctification” (LG 42).
I therefore, exhort you “love one another in deed and in truth and not merely talk about it” (see 1 Jn 3:18). because when man is loved, St. Thomas says, God is loved, for man is the image of God (cf. “Commentary on St. Matthew”, 22:4) and an object of His love (cf. St. Vincent de Paul). Let us, therefore, renew our commitment to love God and one another not only with our words, not only with our promises, not only with our good intention but in truth and in deeds.
Do you want to go to hell? If you want to go to hell, just refuse to love, just neglect to love, just take love for granted and you will go to hell the easiest, the fastest and the surest way. Please don’t go the hell.
According to Jewish tradition, the resurrection of the just, and the subsequent setting up of the kingdom of God, was to be ushered in by a great festival in which all of the chosen people would participate. Hence their saying: ‘Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.’
What does it mean to “eat bread in the kingdom of heaven”? In the ancient world the most notable sign of favor and intimate friendship was the invitation to “share bread” at the dinner table or the table fellowship. Who you ate with showed who you valued and trusted as your friends. One of the most beautiful images of heaven in the scriptures is the royal wedding celebration and banquet given by the King for his son and close friends.
The gospel parable that we just heard is commonly known as the Parable of the Great Feast. Let us be reminded that in the Gospel Jesus usually uses parables to describe and explain the characteristics and mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven. Through this Parable the Lord remind us of God the Father’s invitation to the greatest banquet in heaven. Included and implied in this invitation are the following:
First, God wants all men and women to be saved (1 Tim 2:4) and come to the fullness of knowledge of Jesus who is the Way, Truth and the Life (Jn 14:6).
Second, God wants His people to be happy with him in the kingdom of heaven. This is also reiterated to us by the Church when she teaches, “To be in blessed and intimate communion with God is the fulfillment of the deepest longing of the human, a state of supreme and definitive happiness.”
Third, God wants His people to value and prioritize heaven over corporal, material and earthly things which may pass away.
It is frightening to note, however, that those who were not able to attend the great feast were not those who refused to come; they merely had other important things to do. They were simply more concerned and pre-occupied with corporal, material and temporal problems—for example, a piece of ground, a yoke of oxen, or a wife. As we look at the part possessions and relations play in this parable, we can see that there is great risk in them—risk that concern for temporal things may cloud our view of what is eternally important.
Do we see heaven as our ultimate goal? Are we really serious with our ultimate destiny? If yes, Jesus is telling us that the Kingdom of God is a matter of urgency and top priority. Mere words are not enough. Good intentions are not enough. Action is needed. It demands our positive and concrete response here and now. It demands that we give everything to it. Else we would be shut out forever from the Kingdom of heaven.
How many times does God call us to repentance, conversion, and new life only to be ignored because there are more pressing things to attend to? How many times God continues to teach, sanctify and lead us through the Bible or through Church, her ministers and sacraments only to be taken for granted because there are more important things to do?
In today’s Mass, let us once gain focus our attention to heaven which is our ultimate destiny and goal. As we journey towards our ultimate home, let us hate evil, hold on to what is good, true and pleasing to the Lord, then help building up and spreading the kingdom of God here on earth until it is perfected in heaven. As the Lord said: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Mt 6:33).
Parables are comparisons in which spiritual truth is pictured in vivid terms (Blomberg 1990). “Jesus’ invitation to enter his Kingdom comes in the form of parables, a characteristic feature of his teaching (Cf. Mk 4:33-34).
The Parable that was just read is commonly known as the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Mark Bailey calls this parable, “A day on the job in the kingdom of God.” (because the work takes place throughout the day and the payroll is at the end of the day.)
The parable emphasizes the times that the laborers were hired. The Landowner hired laborers early in the morning (6:00) and made an agreement with them to pay them a denarius for the day’s work. It says the owner agreed which makes me think the workers asked for the denarius and he agreed to it.
The Landowner went out again at 9:00, 12:00, 3:00 and 5:00 and asked others if they would like to come to work without indicating what they would earn, only that he would be fair (vs. 4). If the first guy is going to get 1 denarius for 12 hours work, what do you expect the 2nd group to get? 3/4, then 1/2 then 1/4 and then 1/12th respectively.
At the end of the day, the Landowner went to pay them and started with the last group. He gave them each 1 denarius. What do you expect the next group to get? Three denarii. The next group six, and the next nine and the first group that was hired expects to get 12 denarii. But he gave everyone the same amount – one denarius – regardless of whether they had worked one hour or twelve hours.
It is not surprising therefore, that those were hired first complained and accused the owner of being unfair.
But the owner justifies his actions:
- on the basis of agreement – they agreed to work for a denarius. The owner calls him “friend” which in Matt is not a term of endearment.
- on the basis of ownership – can I do what I want with what is mine?
- on the basis of generosity – can I be gracious to whom I want to be gracious?
Again, is the landowner unjust or unfair? Certainly not. The landowner is just when he paid them all individually with the same amount or salary because that was the thing agreed upon by the landowner and the labourers. The landowner is generous, compassionate and merciful when he paid them all individually with the same amount regardless of of whether they had worked one hour or twelve hours. Simply stated, the landowner is not unjust. Rather he is both just and gracious or compassionate or merciful.
This is the message and the challenge for all of us who are adopted children of God: to be just yet gracious, merciful and compassionate. “Mercy without justice is baloney. Justice without mercy is tyranny.”
“Grace and mercy are both expressions of God’s love, grace to the guilty and undeserving, mercy to the needy and helpless” (John Stott, The Letters of John). Let us, therefore, be merciful as Jesus is merciful (Lk 6:36) for “whoever acts without mercy will be judged without mercy” (James 2:13).May we have mercy on all, especially to those who are going through a time when they are given little or no mercy.
Prayer: Father, may I love those considered unlovable.
“The story is told again of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. This time the account is from Matthew. We must listen again and let it pierce our hearts. Before the Passover Judas goes to the authorities and asks what they are willing to give him if hand him Jesus over them. This is a business transaction, a deal. Jesus is a commodity, and money changes hands.
Meanwhile, Jesus is making his own plans for the Passover meal, sending his disciples on ahead into the city to arrange a house for a dinner. An anonymous donor lends Jesus his house. And dinner begins. As it grows dark, Jesus speaks: “I give you my word, one of you is about to betray me.” The rest of the group is distressed and each asks Jesus the same question: “Surely it is not I, Lord?” Jesus replies them with this harsh word: “He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is he one who will betray me. The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born” (Mt 26:23-24).
It was a custom among the tribes for either host or guest, or one of two close friends, to take a piece of bread or meat and dip it in oil or wine and feed it to the other as a sign of closeness, of kinship. In fact, once a person had eaten at the table in a Bedouin’s camp and shared food he literally was considered kin for the seventy-two hours that the food shared was in his body, bound even closer than by blood ties. Judas takes the food, and even bound as close as that to Jesus, he intends to betray him.” (Megan Mc Keena, Lent 1998, The Daily Readings, Orbis Books Maryknoll). ). By doing so, Jesus successfully shows to his disciples the horror of betrayal (committed by Judas) in the face of his act of hospitality (see JBC 61:176). Here the treachery of Judas is seen at its worst. He must have been the perfect actor and the perfect hypocrite. If the other disciples had known what Judas was about, he would never left that room alive.
Table fellowship is a celebration of friendship and oneness of mind and heart. Hearing Jesus accusing one of them being a traitor is indeed disturbing and shocking. Trying to lift the veil of gloom caused by Jesus’ words, each tried to assure him by asking, “Surely, it is not I Lord? Note that they address Jesus as “Lord,” a title that expresses their acceptance of the power of Jesus over them.
In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the ineffable Hebrew name YHWH, by which God revealed himself to Moses (cf. Ex 3:14), is rendered Kyrios, “Lord.” From then on, “Lord” becomes the more usual name by which to indicate the divinity of Israel’s God. The New Testament uses this full sense of the title “Lord” both for the Father and –what is new-for Jesus, who thereby recognized as God himself (cf. 1 Cor 2:8).
Very often in the Gospels people address Jesus as “Lord.” This title testifies to the respect and trust of those who approach him for help and healing (cf. Mt 8:2; 14:30; 15:22; et al.). At the prompting of the Holy Spirit, “Lord” expresses the recognition of the divine mystery of Jesus. In the encounter with the risen Jesus, this title becomes adoration: “My Lord and my God!” It thus takes on a connotation of love and affection that remains proper to the Christian tradition: It is the Lord!” (Jn 20:28; Jn 21:7).
Judas Iscariot is the only one who addreses Jesus as “Rabbi”” which is also used by Jesus’ enemies and critics. What makes Judas betray Jesus is more than just the love for money. Judas’ belief in Jesus’ person and mission has weakened or ceased altogether. He is scandalized, that is, he stumbles and loses faith in the Master.
“Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man. We can lose this priceless gift, as St. Paul indicated to St. Timothy: ‘Wage the good warfare, holding faith and good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made a shipwreck of their faith’ (1 Tm 1:18-19). To live, grow and persevere in the faith until the end, we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith” (CCC 162).
Officially, today is the last day of Lent. Our Journey is complete. Now we go to celebrate Easter. Alexander Schmemann, a great liturgical scholar, writes:
Even though we are baptized, what we constantly lose and betray is precisely that which we receive at baptism. Therefore, Easter is our return every year to our baptism, whereas Lent is our preparation for that return-the slow and sustained effort to perform, at the end, our passage into new life in Christ…Each Lent and Easter are, once again, the rediscovery and the recovery by us of what we were made through our own baptismal death and resurrection.
The Parable of the Net has close similiarity with the two earlier parables, the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Weed.
The Parable of the Net is closely similar to the Parable of the Mustard Seed in the sense that it describes the Kingdom of God as universal in scope and in nature. Hence, based on these two parables, the Kingdom of God here on earth is intended to accept men and women of all generations and of all nations and that include both the wicked and the righteous, the saint and the sinner, the good and the bad. In connection with this what is the challenge for us? To adopt an open, non discriminating and non judgmental and freewheeling approach to evangelization. A major problem which we will be encountering with this approach however would be: both the undesirables and desirables will enter and mixed in the Church. Some undesirables will be converted…Some undesirables who seemed promising in the beginning will betray God in the end. God does not make us responsible for this. But let us always be reminded to withold our judgment for judgment belongs, not to the disciples, but to God. This parable, however, is not a call to overlook grievous sin. A few chapters hence, Jesus will establish procedures for reproving sinners and for excommunicating them if they fail to mend their ways (Mt 18:15-20).
The Parable of the Net is closely similar to the Parable of the Weed in the sense that these parable recognize the fact that the the Kingdom of God here on earth is composed of both sinners and saints. We cannot perfectly separate the two and eliminate the oter while the Kingdom of God is still on earth. Otherwise we will destroy the good together with the bad. We will uproot the weed while uprooting the weed whose roots were already entwined with the wheat. But when the day of the Final Judgment comes, the good and the bad will be totally and perfectly separated like what the fishermen did in the Parable. After having scooped up all sorts fish, both the good and bad the fishermen sorted their catch and discarded the unwanted or the usable fish.
Whether we like it or not the day of the final judgment will come. Matthew never tires in warning his readers of the reality of judgment and hence the importance of genuine discipleship. It is a warning that both the world and the Church need” (Hagner).When that day comes the good and bad will finally and perfectly be separated. The wicked goes directly to hell to be punished eternally while the righteous will be rewarded in heaven and they “will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father (Mt 13:43).
“Mention of the final judgment reminds the hearers and readers of the parables that discipleship is not a game of ‘let’s pretend’; it is a matter of life and death” (Brueggemann, 424). The reality of the final judgment once again remind us that following Jesus is not a game of “let’s pretend.,” it is a matter of life and death, it is a matter of salvation and damnation, it is a matter of happiness and misery. Choose life and lasting happiness with God and with our loved ones in heaven.